Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived in Bethany, near Jerusalem. Jesus had a special bond of love and friendship with this family of disciples. A couple of weeks ago we read of Jesus’ visit in which Martha busied herself preparing a meal for their friend, but Mary spent her time listening to Jesus as he taught. He was such a familiar friend, perhaps even regarded as one of the family, that Martha felt free to criticize Jesus for not sending Mary out to the kitchen. But Jesus thought lunch could wait until he was finished feeding Mary the good news of God’s Kingdom, the bread of life.
On another occasion, when their brother Lazarus had died, it was Martha who came out to meet Jesus when he arrived at last. Jesus had indicated a reluctance to rush to Bethany when he first heard his friend was Ill. As a pastor I wonder how that would fly in a congregation if I told the family that I’d be there after their loved one died. Jesus had something larger in mind than visiting a sick friend. He was the resurrection and life, as he told Martha. He had come to demonstrate his power even over death. Thus with tears in his eyes he went to the tomb and called to Lazarus to come out.
Ironically, Lazarus’ resurrection was the last straw for Jesus opponents. They sought to return Lazarus to his grave and soon via his arrest trial and crucifixion they would provide the opportunity for Jesus to demonstrate his own power over his own death.
When we sing, “What a friend We have in Jesus,” we need to be aware that Jesus may show his friendship in surprising ways.